Fishers of Men

“And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Mark 1:16-18).

This phrase, “fishers of men,” occurs only here and in Matthew 4:19. A similar statement is found in Luke 5:10, “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.'”  These are the only references in the New Testament about “fishing” for men, and we note that here Simon is assured, “You will catch men.”

Those who once were real “fishermen” were met by the Master, and He effectually said to them, “Follow me.” Isn’t it extremely noteworthy that our Lord did not go to the halls of learning or to the seats of government to get His disciples, but to the seashore? Does this not tell us that Christ’s mission was different? He even prayed to His Father, saying, “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). How glorious! Christ had come to do “the will” of His Father (John 6:38), and true believers have as their mission to proclaim the Son of God in His glory, just as the Son was “sent” by the Father to “glorify” Himself (John 17:1-4).

The task of evangelism is to point sinners away from dead, fleshly religion, including all self-righteousness, to Christ the Lord. Using the metaphor of fishing, the heaven-sent Servant teaches His learners to become “fishers of men.” This does not mean that we can actually “save” people from sin or hell, or “save” them for heaven. The way we are “fishers of men” is to do as Paul did at Antioch, saying, “And we declare to you glad tidings, that promise which was made to the fathers; God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus.” Yes, we proclaim the crucified but risen Lord! Then Paul quotes Isaiah’s prophecy as fulfilled in Christ: “I will give you the sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:32-34). This is true evangelism, when we tell sinners that the “mercies” of God are “sure” to an elect people!

The apostle Paul taught God’s electing grace and His absolute sovereignty (Romans 8:28-35), the Father accomplishing salvation for all of His people through the Savior’s intercession: “Christ Jesuscame into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15); “For Christ also suffered once for us, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ Jesus does bring us to God, as Him being substituted in our place is totally effectual. “Fishers of men” means that we are following Christ, telling His story, saying with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The “world” of “God’s elect” is thus redeemed, justified, called, and kept because of the manifold grace of God shown to poor, unworthy sinners in Christ Jesus. Our being “fishers of men” is always successful, the Lord powerfully “drawing” all of His elect into the great net of His sovereign, distinguishing grace!

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly….
Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee.
~Charles Wesley

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Poetry Of Suffering

I recently completed two books on the gift of suffering: Suffering Is Never For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) and Though I Walk Through The Valley by Vance Havner (1901-1986).

Elisabeth Elliot is well known for her missionary work and has written many books. Her first husband, Jim, was killed on the mission field. (Her second husband died of cancer). Havner was a beloved Southern Baptist preacher and author, and his book chronicles his experience during the loss of his wife of 33 years (Sara) to Cushing’s Disease. 

What I found interesting is that they both turned to poetry and hymns to help their audience relate. Poetry seems to be the preferred language of suffering. It is God’s gift of grace written by kindred sufferers to point us to the sacrifice of the Man of Sorrows. Poetry helps us to process suffering without directly comparing levels or degrees of it. 

Is it any wonder that God gave us the Psalms to comfort our weary souls? There are times in our lives where we find ourselves like David: 

I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me.
Psalm 38:8-10

Havner wrote: “One thing I have learned in my journey through the Valley – I am not the only one who has traveled this trail. Every day I meet some fellow pilgrim. Almost every other person I talk with has been scarred by tragedy, bereavement, suffering.” 

Elliot wrote: “I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lesson.”  And, “Suffering is a mystery that none of us is really capable of plumbing. And it’s a mystery about which I’m sure everyone at some time of other has asked why” 

She defines suffering this way: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have. She explains, “I think that covers everything.” 

She goes on to say:

“The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.” 

“And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.” 

Later Elliot puts it all in perspective: “It’s only in the cross that we can begin to harmonize this seeming contradiction between suffering and love. And we will never understand suffering unless we understand the love of God.” She describes the cross of Christ this way: “It is the best thing that ever happened in human history as well as the worst thing.” 

Likewise, Havner writes: “Nobody ever walked through so dark a Valley and He walked it by Himself. We can never suffer as He suffered, die as He died. He has been through the Valley and we need fear no evil for He walks it with us.” He continues, “So…my fellow traveler, wending your way through dangers, toils, and snares you will meet a host of kindred souls. You have joined the brotherhood at the price of heartache and tears.” 

Elliot goes on to quote several poets and hymn writers:

Measure your life by loss and not by gain,
Not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth.
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice,
And he that suffereth most hath most to give.
~Ugo Bassi

She references a line from a hymn by Richard Baxter, “Christ leads me through no darker rooms than He went through before.”

She then provides a short poem from the perspective of a young girl who at six-weeks old had an inflammation of the eyes and the doctor tried a procedure which burned both her corneas so that she was blind for life. Here’s the 9 year old words of Fanny Crosby: 

O what a happy soul am I although I cannot see.
I’m resolved that in this world contented I shall be.
So many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot nor I won’t.

Elliot closes her thoughts with a poem by Grant Colfax Tuller:

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me;
I do not choose the colors, He worketh steadily,
Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper, and I the under side.
Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

As Havener travels through his own valley after his wife died, he states: “I have not lost her for I know where she is!” Then he shares the following anonymous poem: 

Death can hide but not divide;
Thou art but on Christ’s other side;
Thou are with Christ and Christ with me,
United still in Christ are we. 

He goes on to quote lines from John Greenleaf Whitier’s poem “The Eternal Goodness.”

I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death,
His mercy underlies,
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed He will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.

And in another chapter he writes of the joyous expectation of Christ’s return and the longing to go home, but if Christ delays, then:

One sweet solemn thought
Comes to me o’er and o’er;
I’m nearer home today
Than I’ve ever been before.
~ Phoebe Cary

A few days after Sara’s passing Havner wrote: “There is not much that I dread from here on out. When one has drained the bitterest cup he is better prepared for any other potion that life may serve. Indeed he can sing:”

Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee! More love to Thee!
~ Elizabeth P. Prentiss

He ends his book referencing Paul’s suffering and how he “had to find it is far better to learn that God’s grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in our weakness.” Then he quotes Fanny Crosby:

All the way my Saviour leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who thro’ life has been my Guide?

Fanny’s words of hope remind me of my dad who often quoted her hymns. He passed away from cancer in October of 2018. With tumors growing out of his body through weakened scars of surgeon incisions, no longer able to walk, our conversation turned to heaven’s joy and no more suffering, and he profoundly and joyfully said in his last days, whisper-voice, “Praise God!”

There is Hope in the midst of suffering…

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

Prison, Providence, And The Lesson Of John The Baptist

Our understanding of God’s Providence, His divine guidance and care to fulfill His purposes, often comes into question when we find ourselves in a dilemma where we can’t understand our circumstances. Said another way, there may be times where we find ourselves in senseless situations that are completely out of our control. Our need is dire, and we have no choice, but to throw ourselves at the mercy of a Sovereign God. (Which is where we all must get to eventually, some get there sooner than others.)

We often think of providence in a lighthearted, purely positive sense, where God’s supernatural care gets us out of jams. For instance, we’re late for work, but every redlight turns green, or in terms of near misses, such as the lightning strike was eight feet from my house, or that out of control car missed my bumper by inches. 

Looking at scripture, one recurring theme where we see God’s providence, turns out to be far from lighthearted. It’s found repeatedly in prison stories where His people are unjustly thrown, facing death, enduring awful conditions, and their faith is stretched in ways we can’t imagine. It’s exactly where God wants them, they’re in His hands. The outcome uncertain, but God… It’s through the furnace of affliction where we must learn to trust Him, and where He receives the most glory. 

By the way, prison can take many forms. We don’t have to be behind bars or facing execution to be trapped in a desperate place. Whatever form prison may take in our lives, it’s precisely where God’s people must learn to trust, wait, and depend on Him. It’s where we cast our burdens upon Him for He cares for us. And we have an Advocate interceding, the Man of Sorrows, who has been there. 

When we think of the many prison situations in the Bible, we often remember the positive outcomes. For example, Joseph (falsely accused and jailed, but God…), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (framed to a fiery furnace, but God…), Daniel (in the lion’s den, but God…), Paul in chains…

But what about the negative outcomes? What about all those martyred for their faith, like Stephen? What about John the Baptist – losing his head? 

God’s plans and purposes are not always positive from the standpoint of our desired outcome. God ultimately provides deliverance for His people through Christ and the cross, where the ultimate injustice, the ultimate mishandling of a trial, the ultimate wrongful death, brings total forgiveness and healing to prisoners of sin. Through his death and resurrection, Christ our Substitute, saves us from the eternal punishment and death we all deserve (mercy), while at the same time providing eternal life that we don’t deserve (grace). 

We may live through difficult and senseless times, we may be rescued from whatever prison we’re in, or we may die like John the Baptist, but God…through Christ, has provided eternal life to those who put their faith and trust in Him. Though we may die, yet shall we live in eternal joy. Life in the presence of the One we can worship and enjoy forever. That, my friends, is the ultimate providential care and guidance that He uses to accomplish His purpose. Christ is worth dying for. And on our journey to the Celestial City, we too must learn, to live is Christ, but all praise be to God, to die is gain. 

Pain

Please take it away
Lord, give me Your novocaine
Let me not be numb

Behind the lines

I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me.
Psalm 38:8-10

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

“Lamentations” is a book of sorrow, pain, anguish, and judgment. But Jeremiah, despite his depression and being brought very low (v. 18), still exults in Jehovah’s faithful love and mercy. Are these contradictions? They seem to be, but of course are not. When we “recall to mind” (v. 21) the great faithfulness of our God, we see clearly that his mercies are “new every morning.” How encouraging this is! The Lord’s daily love and compassion call for daily praise and daily worship!

“Great is your faithfulness.” We must often repeat these four great words to ourselves and to others. Yes, men wrong us, and there is much evil in the world. But we must not allow sin and wrong to overcome us with such anxiety that we forget how indebted we are to the “rich mercy” of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Note verse 26:“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” This holy “salvation” is all wrapped up in the one, precious Savior of sinners, “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who know and love Christ are the recipients of abounding grace and measureless mercy. Believers can truly say with much rejoicing, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

God’s love is steadfast, and his love never ceases; Yahweh’s great mercies will never come to an end; every single morning we can be assured that God will be faithful to us. Is not this great cause for praise to Christ Jesus? Yes, and we are glad to read this: “It shall be well with them that fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). “Well” means no wrath, no judgment, no rejection, but acceptance, love, favor, and mercy through the finished work of Calvary’s bloody cross. When we camp around Calvary our personal depression seems so small and insignificant compared to the Lord of life dying as our Substitute. His death and resurrection assure us of real victory over all sin, all depression, and all the fretting of this life. Let’s praise our Savior anew every morning! “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Romans 16:27).

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Throne Of Grace

This encouraging hymn by Samuel Medley (1738-1799) is based on Hebrews 4:16 and can be found in Gadsby’s Hymns (#382).

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear Lord! to us assembled here
Reveal thy smiling face,
While we, by faith, with love and fear,
Approach the throne of grace.

Thy house is called the house of prayer,
A solemn sacred place;
O let us now thy presence share,
While at the throne of grace.

With holy boldness may we come,
Though of a sinful race,
Thankful to find there yet is room
Before the throne of grace.

Our earnest, fervent cry attend,
And all our faith increase,
While we address our heavenly Friend
Upon the throne of grace.

His tender pity and his love
Our every fear will chase;
And all our help, we then shall prove,
Comes from the throne of grace.

Dear Lord, our many wants supply;
Attend to every case;
While humbled in the dust we lie,
Low at the throne of grace.

We bless thee for thy word and laws;
We bless thee for thy peace;
And we do bless thee, Lord, because
There is a throne of grace.

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